The Mischief Against Local Government Administration In Akwa Ibom
By Franklyn Isong
Though, I had my reservations on the Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral Commission (AKISIEC’s)-conducted elections that brought the current crop of “elected” local government council officials into office on December 2, 2017, howbeit, as the conscience of the society, I will not shy away from the issues affecting the smooth running of the local government administration in Nigeria, particularly, Akwa Ibom State.
Without mincing words, the local government system under the Udom Emmanuel-led government is going into total extinction.
The unhealthy practices by officials of the state government is gradually killing the 31 councils, even though, there is no “elected” council official (chairman/vice or councilor) that will openly speak up against this toxic issue, for obvious reasons of being intimidated and sanctioned by the state.
They would prefer to die in silence. What a coward life style they live!?
It remains factually correct that the local government administration has not fared any better under the almost four years’ administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel from May 29, 2015 to date, and this is not in the public domain because, the council officials are living in perpetual fear of the State.
I have it on good authority that shortly after the council “elections” in the State, all the “elected” council officials (chairmen/vice chairmen and councilors) were placed on compulsory oath of allegiance to the State and their political party.
The “elected” council officials were coerced into writing and submitting their “resignation letters” ahead of their swearing-in, in case anyone “misbehaves” along the line, it would be easier to sack such a person.
As it were, they are deemed to have already resigned in the eyes of the “law”, if this is arguable, I invite my lawyer friends into this discourse.
The governor had grudgingly yielded to agitations for the conduct of local government council elections against his wish.
The council had been operating unconstitutionally and illegally by Caretaker Committees set up by him on July 5, 2016.
Suffice it to say that, the council funds are either being misappropriated, embezzled or looted away by agents of the State to the detriment of developments at the 31 local government councils, no thanks to the State Local Government Joint Account.
Obviously, one would but say, that as evident in Akwa Ibom State, the roles of the third tier (local governments) have been taken away by the state government.
The people at that level of government are now at the mercy of the state governor.
In fact, we are practicing a teleguided local government administration in Akwa Ibom, going by what is obtained today.
To say the least, the evil, bewitching the local government councils and hindering them from discharging their responsibilities as a tier of government is called – the “State and Local Government Joint Account.”
This account is directly supervised and controlled by the state governor through the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and the Accountant General of the State.
Though, the “Joint Account” is established by the 1999 Constitution, Akwa Ibom is not the only State operating it. Udom Emmanuel’s administration is neither the first in Akwa Ibom to operate the “Joint Account”.
His predecessors also operated it, yet, the councils were not starved of funds and allocations due to them from the federation account.
The local government councils under Governor Emmanuel’s predecessors were able to successfully initiate, execute and complete capital projects as well as carried out lots of empowerment programmes for their locals within their tenure. That is not the case as of today.
In close to four years, councils in Akwa Ibom are running dry of funds, in spite of always topping their counterparts in other States at the Federation Account level.
A check into the sharing formula of funds from the federation account by the Federal Ministry of Finance shows that no local government council in Akwa Ibom State had ever received anything less than N150m monthly under this administration, but at the State and Local Government Joint Account, no local government council had ever received anything close to N20m. Sad commentary!
So where are the rest of the local government funds going into? Who is overseeing the funds? Who is appropriating the funds? And why are the councils being starved of funds and denied the opportunity to operate as a tier of government?
Clearly, I am an advocate for the abrogation of section 162(6) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). This section is an aberration and an anathema to democracy and good governance at the grassroots (local governments) level.
This is the section that established the “State Joint Local Government Account” – the mischief which the State is capitalizing on, to rip off our local government councils.
If this illegal deductions, looting and misappropriation of the funds belonging to the 31 local government councils in Akwa Ibom State continues unabatedly, no matter the explanations the governor would give, it would go down in history that the Udom Emmanuel’s administration is not local government council-friendly, in terms of sharing of funds to the councils from the State Joint Local Government Account.
I make bold to assert that, it is high time the state government allowed the local government to perform their functions as enshrined in the Constitution. Presently, no council in Akwa Ibom has successfully embarked on any capital project, including road grading because of paucity of funds or zero allocation to the 31 councils from the Joint Account.
I say no to killing of local government system in Akwa Ibom.
• Franklyn Isong is a public affairs commentator and conscience of the society